Indigenous Portable Memory Aids - Deepstash
Indigenous Portable Memory Aids

Indigenous Portable Memory Aids

Rock art and decorated posts are famous aids to indigenous memory, but far less known are the portable memory devices. Incised stones and boards, tools, collections of objects in bags, bark paintings, birchbark scrolls, decorations on skins and knotted cords have all been used to aid the recall of memorised information. 

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Memory Palace

A memory palace, or a method of loci, is an imagined physical palace where one piece of information is placed in each site, allowing one to mentally stroll through their memory palace drawing out information in the required order without missing an element.

There is ample circumstantial evidence that many indigenous cultures around the world have been using it for at least 40,000 years to store, in modern terms, absurdly large amounts of knowledge. But our dependence on writing has eroded this skill. 

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The Memory Skills Of Indigenous Elders

Cultures without writing are called ‘non-literate’, instead their identity should be associated with what they do in the absence of writing to record their knowledge.

They employ a range of memory technologies linked under the term ‘primary orality’, including song, dance, story and physical memory devices. The sky or landscape itself, are the most universal of these and they provide highly effective memory storage across many societies

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Australian Aboriginal memory palaces are associated with the land, structured by sung pathways called songlines. A songline is a sequence of locations that orientate or contain valuable resources. At each location, a song or ritual is performed that will always be associated with that particular location, physically and in memory. Thus, a songline provides a table of contents to the entire knowledge system.

Some cultures mix the skyscape with the landscape as a memory device; associating knowledge such as seasonal variations, navigation, timekeeping and the ethics of their culture with stories about the heavenly locations. Typically, only fully initiated elders would know and understand the entire knowledge system of the community. This secrecy and sacredness of critical information protects it from corruption.

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Memory And Location: The Method Of Loci

Our sense of sight aids our memory using location, placement, direction and other visual and space elements, something known as Spatial memory.

We automatically start to build spatial memories from a very young age, recollecting the layouts of places and how they relate to the physical objects around them.

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  1. Encoding - the stage when the brain consciously acknowledges information based on our senses. When we attach meaning or factual knowledge to any of this sensory input, that's called semantic encoding which makes us retain memories longer.
  2. Storage - it is when information is stored in different areas of the brain, thanks to the neurons that connect every time we perceive information.
  3. Recall - when our brain "replays" or revisits our memory even though it is not as exact as the first one.

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Studies show that a large part of Stinson Beach near San Francisco will be under a foot of water in less than 20 years. Many think the 21st Century is the first time we faced this kind of event, but it is not.

Sea levels started to rise nearly 15,000 years ago with the end of the last ice age. With the possibility of a global sea-level rise of 3ft (1m) by 2050, researchers are looking at ancient stories that can convey a collective memory about land lost to the sea.

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